Transportation Above, a map of the railroad system in 1880 and 1890

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Above, a map of the railroad system in 1880 and 1890.

As railroad financier George Francis Train stated, "The great Pacific Railway is commenced... Immigration will soon pour into these valleys. Ten millions of emigrants will settle in this golden land in twenty years... This is the grandest enterprise under God!" (The West) The Transcontinental Railroad changed America like no development before it.  The first transcontinental railroad was followed by several others, as well as other connections creating a huge transportation network throughout the West.  The time of travel between New York and San Francisco was changed from three months by boat to eight days by rail car.  Americans moved west for free land, and the railroads carried cattle east to feed the millions in the cities. Buffalo hunters worked for railroad companies, changing the lives and cultures of Native Americans forever.   Settlement developed along the railroad, leading to the population and organization of western territories and their eventual statehood.  The development of the transcontinental railroad shaped the American West. 

  1. Look at the two maps above. How did the railroad change between 1880 and 1890?

  2. Read the passage. How might the expansion of the railroads have impacted the number of people living in the west?

  3. How might the expansion of the railroads have impacted Native Americans and their families, who lived in the West?

  4. How might the expansion of railroads have affected big businesses?


Technologies developed to ease communications between soldiers during the Civil War became useful to everyday men and women. Samuel F. B. Morse developed the first telegraphic sending device and code called Morse Code. Later The Telegraph sent messages across America and the Atlantic Ocean. In 1876 Alexander Graham Bell invented the Telephone. The Bell Telephone Company was formed the next year and American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T) was created in 1900.


  1. Who invented the telephone?

  2. How did the telephone impact big businesses?

  3. How would telephone technology have impacted vertically integrated businesses?

  4. How would telephone technology have impacted horizontally integrated businesses?

  5. Do you think it would be possible to have a monopoly without the telephone? Why or why not?

The Bessemer steel process was a way of manufacturing steel that used LESS coal, so it helped lessen pollution. The biggest contribution that steel made to society was that it was used for expanding the railroad system. It was also used in big cities to build larger than life buildings, called “skyscrapers.”

The earliest skyscrapers, built in the late 1800s, were very basic boxes with simple stone and glass curtain walls. To the architects who built these skyscrapers, the extreme height was impressive enough. In the period around 1900, the aesthetic began to change. Buildings got taller, and architects added more extravagant gothic elements, hiding the boxy steel structure underneath.

Machines were also created to make production of basic goods easier. For example, the sewing machine was invented to create apparel. Because apparel was now easier to make, the price dropped, and more families were able to afford store-bought clothing instead of homemade clothing.


  1. How did the Bessemer steel process affect the environment?

  2. How did the Bessemer steel process affect railroad systems?

  3. What types of buildings could be created with the invention of steel?

  4. What effect did sewing machines have on the average American family?

With the invention of steel, the railroad system, and big business, many people migrated from the south to the North. Most white landowners in the South stayed put, but others moved to where the jobs were. This led to a shift in where most people lived. Prior to 1920, most people lived in rural areas (on farmland). After 1920, most people in the United States lived in urban areas.


  1. What is the difference between rural and urban areas?

  2. What was the total population of people living in rural areas in 1860?

  3. What was the total population of people living in urban areas in 1860?

  4. Why do you think more people lived in rural areas than urban areas?

  5. When is the first year that the number of people living in urban areas was greater than the number of people living in rural areas?

  6. Why do you think that this change happened?

Changes to City Life
The growth of U.S. cities gave rise to a number of features of urban life not before seen in American history. One such feature was the spread of tenements, which were narrow four- or five-story buildings with few windows, limited plumbing and electricity, and tiny rooms often packed with people, mostly blacks and immigrants. Tenements were the main housing available in slums and ghettos, the segregated communities into which blacks and immigrants were forced by poverty, prejudice, even law. These ghettos fostered disease, high infant mortality, and horrific levels of pollution, and were often the site of racial and ethnic strife.

While tenements housed the poor, plush areas arose to house the rich. During the 1870s and 1880s, the cities’ rich inhabitants moved outside the city center to escape the overcrowded conditions. Developments sprung up around many of the major cities, their cleanliness and preservation of green spaces a sharp contrast to the cities they abutted. Electric streetcars, commuter trains, and trolleys ferried these inhabitants to and from their city jobs.


  1. What was a tenement?

  2. What do you think “high infant morality” means?

  3. Look at the picture to the left. What things do you see in the tenement?

  4. What types of obstacles did people living in tenements face?

  5. What were living conditions like for the rich?

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